Hundreds of thousands of disabled people in ‘destitution’, research suggests
Hundreds of thousands of disabled people are living in destitution, the first piece of research to look at extreme poverty in the UK suggests.
The study, published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, found that in 2015 there were 1.25 million people in the UK who were defined at some point as destitute because they could not afford the basic essentials they needed to eat, keep clean and stay warm and dry.
The ground-breaking study by researchers at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh did not calculate how many disabled people were living in destitution, but did conclude that one of the four most common causes of destitution was the extra costs of ill-health and disability.
And more than a quarter (29 per cent) of destitute people surveyed by the researchers said they had serious health problems.
The definition of destitution used by the researchers was that in a single month, two or more of the following had applied to a person: they had slept rough; they had had one or no meals a day for two or more days; they had been unable to heat or to light their home for five or more days; they had gone without weather-appropriate clothes; or they had gone without basic toiletries.
Two-fifths of destitute people said they had experienced delays with their benefits and 30 per cent said they had had their benefits sanctioned, while the study says that many of the most serious delays were associated with claiming or attempting to claim out-of-work disability benefits.
The study, Destitution in the UK, says that the causes of destitution relating to people’s income were “largely benefit-related”, but there were also “key triggers” around spending, including “the difficulties many encounter in meeting health-related additional expenses from extremely modest incomes”.
The report says: “Some research participants found themselves having to spend money on specific items related to their ill-health that pushed them into a destitute situation and thus they came to lack other necessities.
“Examples included people with special (and expensive) diets, and those who had to pay for taxis to hospital appointments (as their only viable transport option).”
Many of those who became destitute “faced some combination of unsustainable debts and/or unmanageable arrears repayment schedules (typically imposed by public rather than private creditors), unaffordable housing costs, other high living costs (especially energy costs), and expenditure on health and disability-related needs.
“These expenditure issues were often pivotal in pushing them from a position of severe poverty, where nonetheless they were just about managing, into a state of destitution, where they could no longer get the bare essentials.”
The study says that those who were interviewed in depth by the researchers were “quite explicit about how demeaning they found it to have to seek help with essentials like food, clothes and toiletries from charitable organisations”.
Julia Unwin, chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: “There are a shocking number of people in the UK living in destitution.
“It is simply unacceptable to see such levels of severe poverty in our country in the 21st century.
“Governments of all stripes have failed to protect people at the bottom of the income scale from the effects of severe poverty, leaving many unable to feed, clothe or house themselves and their families.
“Many people affected are living on a very low income before they are no longer able to make their incomes stretch, or a financial shock like a benefit delay or family breakdown pushes them over the edge into destitution.
“We have to tackle these root causes. Government, businesses and communities need to work together to provide better emergency support, make basic essentials more affordable and create better jobs if we are to end destitution in the UK.”
The researchers surveyed people who came to voluntary sector crisis services, like foodbanks and debt advice charities, in nine areas over one week in 2015.
They used these figures, together with national statistics, to calculate the number of destitute people in the UK across the year.
But the researchers say that the true figure of people in destitution is likely to be “significantly higher” because their research did not include those people who only received help from their local council or government programmes, or those who did not seek help at all.
28 April 2016

 

Leonard Cheshire set to scrap disabled-only team over budget black hole
A disability charity is set to scrap a team of disabled staff members dedicated to empowering the residents of its care homes, in a bid to cope with a budgetary black hole.
Leonard Cheshire Disability (LCD) has told its award-winning, 14-strong customer support team (CST) that they are all facing possible redundancy, in a bid to eliminate what is believed to be a £750,000 budget deficit.
Members of the charity’s own Customer Action Network (CAN) of service-users this week sent out a newsletter calling on LCD to think again.
The newsletter warns: “Save Our Support. Your voices will not be heard. Your views will not be carried higher. Your independent support will not be there as is now.”
It says the CST is “irreplaceable”, and adds: “What was once a very strong department that listened and supported you has been slowly eroded.”
The newsletter says: “How can a disability charity [such] as this, who talk about getting disabled people into work, make a team of disabled people redundant?
“Will they please listen to alternative options put forward by the team!”
The newsletter includes a petition which CAN plans to send to the charity’s trustees.
CST – which is believed to have had an annual budget of £450,000 – was set up to work with the charity’s care home residents and home care service-users across the UK, and was said to be the only part of the charity where jobs were reserved for disabled people.
The team of fieldworkers support LCD service-users to empower themselves through training, providing information and mentoring, offering advocacy and peer support, and enabling them to put their views across by supporting CAN.
After initially refusing to comment, the charity denied yesterday (27 April) that its financial problems were connected with the departure of its chief executive, Clare Pelham, and her decision to leave the post before a successor had been appointed.
Pelham’s temporary successor, Rosemary Pardington, has also handed in her notice.
LCD had an income of £162 million in 2014-15, making it the UK’s second-largest disability charity, after Mencap, but it is not led or controlled by disabled people.
Disabled activist Doug Paulley, himself a resident of an LCD care home, and a fierce critic of the way the charity is run, said CST’s work was “really important”.
He said: “The people that worked for them really cared and were disabled people trying to empower fellow disabled people on what more could be possible.
“They were the only ring-fenced jobs for disabled people and the only people charged with empowering disabled people, and yet they are the ones who are going.
“It is just disgusting, really. It just shows LCD up as right hypocrites.”
He said CST had already been “emasculated” several years ago in a previous round of cost-cutting, when LCD had again considered scrapping the whole unit.
Only last month, the charity was accused by a council and a local NHS body of an “uncaring disregard” for the disabled residents of one of its care homes, after giving them less than two months’ notice that they would be evicted.
LCD said this week that there were “no plans to close any more care homes being considered”.
An LCD spokeswoman said that Pelham’s decision to leave “was not related to any financial matters”.
She said: “At this point in time we are in informal discussions about the future of the customer support team and no decisions have been taken.
“As is normal for any charity of our size, we constantly review our operations to ensure we work with disabled people in the most effective way.
“Sadly, Rosemarie Pardington will be moving on to the next stage of her career this year and has agreed to stay with Leonard Cheshire as acting chief executive until September.”
She declined to comment on the size of the budget deficit, or whether any more jobs across LCD were at risk of redundancy.
28 April 2016

 

Government set to slash equality watchdog’s budget… again
The government has told the equality watchdog that it plans to slash its budget again, even though the financial year has already started.
The planned cuts only emerged after the Government Equalities Office (GEO) told Disability News Service (DNS) that it was still “in the process of agreeing budgets” with the Equality and Human Rights Commission, several weeks into the new financial year.
The comment came after DNS asked GEO about the commission’s plans to make up to 30 of about 200 members of staff redundant.
GEO said that it was “not currently aware of any issues in this area”, but added: “We are in the process of agreeing budgets with the EHRC and no decisions have been made.”
When asked why GEO was still discussing budgets with the EHRC in late April, when the commission had already announced that its core budget for 2016-17 would be £17.1 million, a GEO spokeswoman said: “We have nothing further to add.”
She also refused to comment on why the GEO was not aware that the commission had issued a consultation paper on the redundancies last week.
EHRC said it does not yet know how large the cut to its budget will be, or whether any of the projects laid out in its business plan are now at risk.
There will be concerns that sizeable government cuts could put at risk some of the watchdog’s plans for 2016-17, including commissioning research into the human rights impact of the government’s welfare reforms, an inquiry into disabled people’s housing, as well as projects on disability hate crime, discrimination in health and social care, and in education, and on pay gaps.
In response to a question from DNS at a seminar on the report of the Lords committee that examined the impact of the Equality Act on disabled people, Melanie Field, EHRC’s executive director for strategy and policy, said they had been “pressing [GEO] quite hard” to decide on the final budget settlement.
She said: “We do know that the spending review settlement meant a spending reduction across government and the Department for Education [DfE, which is where GEO is based] has been subject to a cut, so we are expecting that our budget will be reduced this year.”
Disabled campaigners at the seminar – which was organised by the Centre for Disability Studies at the University of Leeds, the legal firm Unity Law, and the Cloisters set of barristers – said they were deeply concerned that yet more cuts were being inflicted on the commission.
Sarah Rennie, a member of the disabled women’s organisation Sisters of Frida, said: “Cutting the budget is a damning reflection of the value placed on achieving real equality and combatting indignity and oppression.
“Aside from the Lords’ recent recommendations, the commission has crucial work to do on many intersectional issues, including safety for disabled women on public transport and the availability of accessible refuges.
“The EHRC needs the fair resources to get on with this.”
Disabled campaigner Doug Paulley, who spoke at the conference, said: “The EHRC is supposed to take the burden of enforcing the Equality Act off disabled people.
“The Disability Rights Commission used to do that… the EHRC don’t do that.
“If they get less and less money, they are going to do that less and less.”
Fellow disabled activist Simone Aspis, of Changing Perspectives, also criticised the cut, which she said had to be seen “in the context of the government’s continuing attack on disabled people’s rights to justice… and any rights that disabled people have to challenge government decisions”.
A commission spokesman had said earlier in a statement: “Following the spending review (where DfE are being required to make overall savings of 20 per cent) and through regular discussions with GEO, it is clear the government intends to reduce our budget along with those of other public bodies.
“We have planned for this year on the basis of the indicative settlement [£17.1 million] set out in our business plan, published at the end of March.
“While we still await details of our formal settlement, we know already that we will need to make significant savings.
“It is therefore important we involve staff as early as possible and start planning for the future and that was the process we started last week.
“Responsible leadership is about facing up to future challenges, not ducking them. Our operating model sets out changes that can help us deliver more impact as well as help us in managing difficult change.”
By noon today (28 April), EHRC had been unable to say if it had been told to expect a 20 per cent cut to its £17.1 million budget; whether the cuts would mean that parts of its business plan were now at risk; or why GEO appeared to have been unaware of the commission’s consultation on possible redundancies.
The watchdog’s core budget for 2016-17 had been frozen at £17.1 million, still a real terms cut, which followed years of cuts to its funding since the formation of the coalition government in 2010.
In 2010, the commission’s annual budget was as high as £62 million.
A budget of £17.1 million is already several million pounds lower than the annual budget of the Disability Rights Commission when it was merged into the new “cross-strand” equality body in 2007. At one time, EHRC employed as many as 525 people.
28 April 2016

 

‘Conflict of interest’ lawyer to chair EHRC, as minister ignores MPs’ concerns
The government has appointed a commercial lawyer to chair the equality and human rights watchdog, despite MPs raising serious concerns about a potential conflict of interest caused by his firm’s work for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
The Government Equalities Office (GEO) announced this week that David Isaac had been chosen to be the next chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), just days after two parliamentary committees refused to approve his appointment.
The joint committee on human rights and the Commons women and equalities committee said last week that there was a “serious potential conflict of interest” relating to Isaac’s role as a partner at the law firm Pinsent Masons, which has a “significant amount of business with the government”, including DWP.
They also warned that appointing Isaac – a former chair of the gay rights charity Stonewall – as EHRC’s chair could put at risk the commission’s prestigious “A” status as a national human rights institution.
As a result of their concerns, and following a hearing at which Isaac gave evidence, the two committees said they were “unable to recommend that this appointment should proceed”.
Despite that conclusion, the education secretary Nicky Morgan, who is also minister for women and equalities, this week confirmed her decision to appoint Isaac as EHRC’s new chair, following what she described as a “rigorous appointment process”.
Earlier this month, Disability News Service (DNS) reported concerns at the government links of both Isaac and EHRC’s disability commissioner, the disabled Tory peer Lord [Chris] Holmes, as the commission prepared to investigate whether Conservative welfare reforms have breached the human rights of disabled people.
Isaac has specialised in his work at Pinsent Masons on providing advice on “major public and private sector UK and global commercial and outsourcing projects”, but the company has refused to tell DNS which outsourcing projects he has worked on for DWP, leading to the possibility that he could have been involved in some of the reforms EHRC will now be investigating.
In a letter to the chairs of the two committees this week, Morgan said she was “satisfied that any potential conflicts can and will be addressed”, that Isaac would not receive any profits as an equity partner from work carried out by Pinsent Masons on behalf of the government, and that he would not be involved in advising the firm’s government clients while he remained as EHRC chair.
Morgan said in a statement: “I’m thrilled to offer David Isaac the position of chair of the EHRC.
“David Isaac has an impressive track record and brings a range of experience both from his work on LGBT issues and human rights and as an experienced lawyer.
“We are confident that in his role as chair of the EHRC he will be a strong and effective advocate for equality and human rights in Britain.”
Isaac said in a statement: “I am delighted to have been offered this important role which is fundamental to driving equality and human rights in England, Scotland and Wales.
“I look forward to further discussions with the EHRC with the intention of accepting the role in due course.”
The two committees will now publish a report following the evidence hearing and the exchange of letters, and were not able to comment this week about Morgan’s decision to proceed with Isaac’s appointment.
GEO declined to comment on the decision to ignore the committees’ concerns and appoint Isaac.
EHRC also declined to comment on the decision to appoint Isaac, despite the concerns about conflict of interest.
But the commission’s interim chair Caroline Waters said in a statement that she was “confident that David Isaac has all the skills, experience, commitment and integrity needed to lead the commission”.
28 April 2016

 

‘Enforcement is key on Equality Act’

Lawyers, campaigners, peers and academics have spoken of how disabled people can find it almost impossible to enforce their rights to equality, six years after the introduction of the Equality Act.

They were speaking at a seminar in London – organised by the Centre for Disability Studies at the University of Leeds, the legal firm Unity Law, and the Cloisters set of barristers – that discussed the findings of a landmark report by a Lords committee on the impact of the Equality Act 2010 on disabled people.

The committee, which reported in March, concluded that government was failing to protect disabled people from discrimination, while laws designed to address disability discrimination were “not working in practice”, and spending cuts were having “a hugely adverse effect on disabled people”.

Several of those who contributed to yesterday’s (27 April) seminar spoke of how disabled people’s access to justice had been damaged over the last 20 years, since the first Disability Discrimination Act.

Catherine Casserley, who has practised discrimination law since 1996 in law centres, for the former Disability Rights Commission, and now as a barrister with Cloisters, said disabled people had “very significant problems” enforcing their rights under the Equality Act, with advice centres and law centres closing, while, when considering some of the decisions, it seemed that even some of the judiciary appeared to have difficulty understanding disability discrimination law.

Professor Anna Lawson, director of the Centre for Disability Studies, said the committee’s report was a “fantastic” piece of research which “gathers together people’s lived experience”, exposes the gap between that experience and what the law says, and helps keep up the momentum for change.

She said it was clear that the Equality Act “has made a difference” and was “the envy of many other countries”, but she added: “Things are different now than they were in 1995 but it is slow progress.”

And she said the Equality Act had to be supplemented by other legislation on social care, social welfare, education and mental capacity.

The disabled peer Lord Low, who spoke of lessons learned from the work of the Disability Rights Taskforce, of which he was a member between 1997 and 1999, called on the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to push the government to set out an action plan to implement the committee’s recommendations.

He said: “We must get away from the perception that disability rights are something that we in society out of the goodness of our hearts give ‘them over there, those poor disabled people…’

“The advancement of disability rights is a shared task for all of us… for the rest of society no less than disabled people and their organisations.”

There were also concerns at how vital campaigns to fight cuts to social care and benefits had meant equality had been “left behind” as a campaigning issue for disabled people.

Liz Sayce, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said disabled people had shown they could put disability “high up the agenda” with the battle over the government’s plans to tighten eligibility to personal independence payment (PIP), which were later abandoned.

But she said there had not been enough discussion about equality, with the focus instead on issues such as cuts to social care, which saw disabled people positioned as a “vulnerable group of people” which was “getting smaller and smaller” because of government rhetoric on “targeting resources on those who need the most”.

She said: “It’s really important that we keep talking about equality. This report does give us an opportunity.

“We should all push it to the top of our agendas to make sure it doesn’t get forgotten.”

Faryal Velmi, director of the user-led, accessible transport charity Transport for All (TfA), said the pace of change had been “really infuriating”, and any equality gains made had not come from politicians and transport commissioners but had been “won by the tireless and vociferous activism of disabled people and their allies”.

She said TfA’s helpline received calls every day from scooter-users who had been left “in the cold and the rain” because drivers would not let them on buses.

Velmi said it was a “mark of shame” in the fifth richest country in the world that disabled people were having to “limit their lives or at worst are trapped in their homes because public transport is not good enough”.

Several delegates spoke of the difficulty of enforcing the act.

Douglas Johnson, a discrimination law expert with Unity Law, said the real difficulty with the Equality Act was that while it gave rights “it makes you responsible for enforcing that yourself”, and added: “It is just not fair to expect victims of discrimination to sort out society’s problems themselves”.

Barbara Cohen, a member of the Discrimination Law Association, said EHRC had not done enough to enforce the act.

She said it had “really extensive enforcement powers which they have not been particularly keen to use in recent years”.

Kumar Moorthy, from Disability Watford, said service-providers tended to ignore regulations on access because of the lack of enforcement.

He said: “It is time that we took the stick out of the pocket and waved it around; maybe not necessarily to start hitting people, but let’s show it.

“It’s time to show the stick and make sure the regulations are implemented before we devote too much effort to modifying the expectations of tomorrow.”

Some of those at the seminar suggested there was a need for direct action to enforce disabled people’s rights under the act.

Kim Marshall, a lecturer on disability, said the Equality Act needed “teeth”.

She said: “We have had cut after cut after cut after cut in terms of legal aid and access to resources.

“Is it not now time that we went to direct action? We have been waiting 20 years and we still do not have an equal society.”

Tracey Proudlock, who chained herself to buses in the 1980s in protest at inaccessible public transport and is now a leading access consultant, said that for an “inclusive campaign you need to do more than just direct action”.

She said: “Part of me says we have a piece of legislation today, and what we should be doing is knuckling under and making it work.

“I want an inclusive campaign that really challenges the people that are doing wicked things.”

Sayce agreed that inclusive campaigning was important, but so was an inclusive approach to deciding what to campaign on.

She said disabled people were “being banged up in various institutions”, with the number of people sectioned under the Mental Health Act “going up and up relentlessly” and “people being subject to some pretty horrendous things”.

Bob Williams-Findlay, a former chair of the British Council of Disabled People, said the law’s approach to disability was outdated, because of the continuing confusion between impairment and disability – the barriers created by society.

He said that if the legislation did not understand the difference between the two, “how will employers and service-providers?”

Audrey Ludwig, from Ipswich-based Tackling Discrimination in the East, which is run by Ipswich and Suffolk Council for Racial Equality, said discrimination law “becomes an irrelevance” in practice because of how few disability discrimination cases – just four in one year – are granted legal aid to be taken through county courts.

Baroness Deech, who chaired the Equality Act 2010 and disability committee that produced the report, promised that she and her committee would “do everything that we can to make sure the government listens to and carries out our recommendations”.

Lord [Chris] Holmes, the EHRC’s disability commissioner, said the commission would deliver its formal response to the report after it had been considered by its disability committee next month.

But he said: “There is no question we would all agree that government needs to do more to fight disability discrimination and enable disabled people to fully participate in society. Full stop.”
28 April 2016

 

DWP ‘is deliberately misleading’ benefit claimants over PIP deadline
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is facing claims that it is deliberately misleading benefit claimants into thinking they have no right of appeal if they miss the deadline for applying for the new personal independence payment (PIP).
There are also claims that it is failing to make it clear enough to existing disability living allowance (DLA) claimants that they will lose their support if they miss that deadline, even if they have been given lifetime DLA awards.
Increasing numbers of long-term DLA claimants are now being told they need to apply for PIP, but are given just 28 days to do so.
If they miss that deadline, their DLA is suspended. And if they fail to claim PIP in the next 28 days, their DLA is “terminated” and cannot be reinstated, and they have to make an entirely new claim for PIP.
This could mean months without any financial support to cover the extra costs they face as a disabled person.
One long-term DLA claimant, Patricia Sadowski, a single mother with six-year-old twins, from Essex, has come forward to expose DWP’s actions.
Like hundreds of thousands of other DLA claimants, she was on a lifetime award – at the middle rate care and higher rate mobility – but still needs to go through the assessment process in the move to PIP.
DWP claims it sent her a circular in November, telling her she had just 28 days to make a PIP claim, and then another circular six weeks later, three days before Christmas, to remind her that if she did not put in a PIP claim her DLA would be terminated.
But Sadowski insists that she did not receive either of the circulars, and the first she knew that her DLA was being stopped was when she realised that her money had not appeared in her bank account.
She said DWP has refused to send her copies of the circulars it claims to have sent her.
At the time, in December, she had just come out of hospital and was “barely conscious”, due to a complex condition caused by lesions on her brain that have left her with complex neurological symptoms, including sight and memory problems.
Even if she did receive the letters, she said, she would have been unaware of their importance.
She has seen versions of the circulars online and says they look like regular DLA circulars, are vaguely-worded, and include just one paragraph about the need to make a PIP claim.
And she said that DWP’s safeguarding arrangements should have picked up her failure to respond, as the department was aware of her neurological condition.
But she also insisted that she was careful to keep all of her benefits paperwork and does not have the two circulars, and added: “Although I can misunderstand things, I don’t destroy things willy-nilly. I have been hyper-aware of the PIP transition for years.”
When she realised her DLA was no longer being paid, she contacted DWP, but was told that according to guidance issued to staff she had no right of appeal, and would have to submit a fresh PIP claim instead.
But Sadowski has discovered that the legislation – and the regulations introduced to cover the transition from DLA to PIP – makes it clear that there is a right of appeal, through the new mandatory reconsideration process, and then potentially to a social security tribunal.
She said: “The DWP were saying, ‘No reconsideration, no appeal.’ When people are trying to appeal they get an absolute wall of silence.”
After months of fighting with DWP – and with the support of her MP, the former work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith – she has now secured a right to appeal, although DWP has already confirmed its decision to terminate her DLA through the mandatory reconsideration, so she will now need to appeal to a tribunal.
Because of DWP’s actions, she now has to live on just £115 a week from employment and support allowance, leaving her more than £170 a week worse off, as she was also claiming severe disability premium.
Sadowski said she believes DWP is trying to catch people out in the transition process from DLA to PIP.
She said: “I think it is very hard to justify how every single member of DWP has never heard of the transition regulations and cannot refer to them.”
She said the way she had been treated by DWP was “humiliating” and tantamount to “fraud”.
She said: “When you have an untreatable condition with a lifetime award that is responded to in this way it makes you feel that you are not a full citizen, that you are not respected by society.
“The whole system is set up to make sure you are not worth the help and support you’re entitled to.”
And she said she feared for the well-being of those who have not had the education and support she has had, and their ability to fight what is a “very complicated and deliberately complicated process”.
A DWP spokesman said the department told Ms Sadowski in a letter on 21 January that her DLA claim had been terminated.
He said the department disputed Sadowski’s claim that DWP staff were telling DLA claimants they had no right to appeal in situations like hers, and that DWP was deliberately trying to catch DLA claimants out with its circulars.
He also said that DWP guidance on the PIP transition process does not state that there is no right of appeal for people in her situation, although he said that DWP would be amending the guidance.
He said there was an ongoing “extensive review of all communications on the claim and assessment process, including letters, claim forms, information booklets and material on the Gov.uk website”.
He said the letters that are sent to DLA claimants had been “revised”, while further changes had then been made following feedback from claimants during testing of the new format, “including giving clearer information about the process and more information on how to claim PIP”.
He said: “We are continuing to analyse our communications to ensure we reflect the claimant experience and act on feedback we receive.”
28 April 2016

 

Disabled people are ‘stronger and safer’ in EU, say leading academics
Leaving the European Union (EU) would put at risk significant improvements that have been made to the lives of disabled people over the last 15 years, according to three of the country’s leading academics working in the disability rights field.
In the strongest statement yet on why remaining in the EU would be the right choice for those concerned about disability rights, the trio say in a new document that disabled people would be “stronger and safer” inside the union.
In UK Disabled People and their Families – Stronger and Safer Inside the EU, the trio point to the “dramatic shift of emphasis” in EU disability policy from the mid-1990s, which saw a move “away from charity and welfare [and] toward equality and human rights”.
This shift in emphasis saw the introduction of the Employment Equality Directive 2000, which led in the UK to the removal of the original exemption in the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) for employers with fewer than 20 staff, so that in 2004 “it became unlawful for all employers (and not just very big ones) to discriminate against disabled people”.
The employment directive also led to the DDA being changed to make direct discrimination by employers against disabled people unlawful.
And it led to the law in England, Scotland and Wales being altered to make it unlawful for employers to discriminate against carers.
On transport, the EU Air Passengers Regulation 2006 means transport operators have to assist disabled passengers travelling by air through the EU, with similar obligations for travel by train, ship, and buses and coaches, while there is also “mutual recognition” of disabled people’s parking badges across the EU.
And because of the EU Medicinal Products for Human Use Directive 2004, they say, packaging of medicines must include labelling in Braille.
The document was written by the disabled academic Professor Anna Lawson, director of the influential Centre for Disability Studies at the University of Leeds; Professor Gerard Quinn, director of the Centre for Disability Law and Policy at the National University of Ireland Galway; and Dr Hywel Ceri Jones, formerly co-chair of the European Consortium of Foundations on Human Rights and Disability, and a former director general for employment, social policy and industrial relations for the European Commission.
Among other benefits of membership, Lawson, Quinn and Jones point to the EU’s ratification of the UN disability convention, which means the EU now has to throw out or change laws and policies which do not comply with the treaty and has to “harness all its financial, legislative and other tools to benefit disabled people”.
The three academics also point to “exciting proposals” for new EU legislation that will benefit disabled people in the future.
These include the proposed Accessibility Act, which would ensure that manufacturers and suppliers of products such as computers, phones, ticketing machines and e-books would have to comply with new accessibility standards that would apply throughout the EU, while some service-providers would also have to comply with new accessibility standards.
The act would also ensure that EU and UK public sector money was “not spent on creating new barriers that lock disabled people out of the mainstream”, they say.
And the trio say that a proposed EU public sector website accessibility directive would force public sector providers of key services to ensure their sites were accessible.
They say that all European Commission proposals around disability follow consultations with disabled people’s organisations.
And they warn that leaving the EU would cause the UK’s disability movement to become “more detached from its European counterparts”.
They point out that the EU provides a platform for bringing together organisations that campaign for equality and human rights, including disabled people’s organisations, so they can “share innovative ideas about disability policy and practice”.
They conclude: “If we leave the EU, we will be cut off from these sources of fresh thinking. Neither will we be able to contribute to them.
“The end loser will undoubtedly be disabled people and their families – in the UK and also in the rest of Europe.”
The document has already secured the backing of leading disabled figures, including the crossbench peers Baroness [Jane] Campbell and Lord [Colin] Low; Diane Kingston, vice-chair of the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities; researcher and writer Jenny Morris, who helped write the Labour government’s Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People white paper; and Linda Burnip and Debbie Jolly, co-founders of Disabled People Against Cuts.
The co-authors of the document are now hoping to secure signatures from other supporters.
28 April 2016

 

Disabled Access Day sees venue numbers quadruple
More than 1,000 venues and an estimated 10,000 people took part in the second annual Disabled Access Day, according to a new report.
The figures show that last month’s event, which saw eight countries taking part, attracted 10 times the number of people who took part in the inaugural event in 2015, with four times as many venues involved.
The success was boosted by participation from Barclays, Caffè Nero, Stagecoach and Strada, as well as more than 270 independent venues.
Disabled Access Day, founded by wheelchair-user Paul Ralph, aims to encourage disabled people and their friends and family to “try something new”; to give disabled people confidence to explore new venues in a “safe and welcoming environment”; to highlight places with excellent accessibility; and to raise awareness of the importance of access.
In a survey of participants in this year’s event, 65 per cent said they visited somewhere they had not been before and 89 per cent said they had visited somewhere they would visit again, while 94 per cent of venues said they would take part again next year.
Next year’s Disabled Access Day will be spread over three days, on 10, 11 and 12 March 2017.
Among this year’s successes, 10-year-old Grace Warnock, from Prestonpans in East Lothian, was at the Scottish parliament to unveil a new sign she designed to show that accessible toilets are not just for people with visible impairments.
The sign is now in use to direct people to the Scottish parliament’s accessible toilets. Grace, who has Crohn’s Disease, unveiled the new sign alongside Labour MSP Iain Gray.
Among other venues that took part in this year’s event were the Roald Dahl Museum in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire; St Paul’s Cathedral; Tate Modern art gallery; the People’s History Museum in Manchester; Hampton Court Palace; the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh; the National Museum of Scotland; the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle; and Leeds City Museum.
Euan MacDonald, co-founder of the disabled access review website and mobile phone app Euan’s Guide, which sponsors Disabled Access Day, said the report showed “how crucial it is for venues to offer good disabled access in addition to ensuring that their information about their accessibility is up-to-date and accurate”.
Ralph said he had been impressed with how many venues had “actively engaged with the day, trying out new things themselves, welcoming open and honest feedback and engaging with new customers”.
He added: “I know there are lots of great things being planned that will improve accessibility of venues in the longer term and I look forward to seeing these develop and hopefully trying out one or two along the way as well.”
But Ralph was also among those campaigners who pointed out the significant barriers that disabled people still face.
The event took place just days after the government had announced it was to push ahead with plans to tighten eligibility for its new disability benefit, personal independence payment (PIP), a decision it was later forced to reverse after the resignation of work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith.
Ralph tweeted on the day: “Oh the irony – today we celebrate Disabled #AccessDay and IDS and co tweak PIP again to make life even more challenging – my next campaign?”
Another disabled campaigner, Debbie George, tweeted: “I have the legal right to appropriately access goods and services every day not just on #AccessDay.”
Another, @cdaargh, tweeted: “Businesses are legally required to be accessible to disabled people, so v telling that #AccessDay needs to be a thing. Should be standard!”
Alan Benson tweeted: “On Saturday & #AccessDay at one of few accessible Central [Line] Stations this is shameful.”
And another campaigner, tweeting at @sciphikat, warned that those disabled people losing support in the move from disability living allowance to PIP would “lose any ability to access *anything*. #AccessDay”.
The disability charity Muscular Dystrophy UK pointed out that 90 per cent of young disabled people “feel that most mainstream travel agents have poor knowledge of issues affecting disabled tourists”.
And one tweet openly critical of Disabled Access Day came from @markwomersley, who tweeted: “If Uncle Tom crips keep being grateful for scraps, then those giving scraps will think we’re happy with status quo! WAKE UP! #AccessDay.”
28 April 2016

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com